Students Demand Action Against Pest in Dorms

Zully Sosa, executive editor 

A crowd of over 60 students gathered in Murphy Square on Sept. 27 to share their firsthand experiences, frustrations with responses and ideas for solutions regarding cockroaches and rodents in dorms. Presented as an “Open Mic & Protest,” all students were encouraged to “tell Augsburg how you feel.”

The flyer inviting students to the event stated, “We want the Urness and Mortensen towers to be rebuilt with safe living conditions.” At the beginning of the protest, event organizer Ali Garcia urged, “We cannot wait for these buildings to be rebuilt in the next 40 or 50 years!” Garcia equipped students with signs to hold, featuring phrases such as “Rooms not roaches,” “Augsburg failed students” and “Pribbenow where you at?” Co-organizer Manu Kannare energized the crowd with chants like “Get up, get down, there’s a housing crisis in town!” and “I am out of patience waiting for maintenance!”

Throughout the hour and a half protest, students took turns sharing their stories, seconding grievances from previous speakers and building upon each other’s arguments to make one thing clear: they want action. First year Brie Lobenstein was forward about the exasperation of first floor Urness students, saying, “We’ve gotten to the point where we’re thinking of painting them to try and figure out if it’s the same cockroaches or new ones because we can’t tell. There’s so many.” 

Most students who spoke told the crowd that a work order was submitted, however the response was a “band-aid fix,” as Jaeyoung Weigand put it. Weigand and roommate Emily Boyer told the story of their infested university-issued microwave-fridge unit. Boyer assured the crowd that the microwave was not used more than three times and that their room as a whole was kept clean out of a fear for bugs. Weigand shared, “I counted like 15 [roaches] that came out of that microwave that I was given to by the campus, and you know what they said? That they couldn’t take it out because it was part of the room and that it would be on us to keep it there.” Weigand revealed the solution was to remove the microwave. “When we finally had Residence Life come to remove it, they were still crawling on the guy’s hand as he took it out of our room.” The pair declined Residence Life’s offer to receive a new microwave, certain that the roaches would come back. The fridge portion of their unit, which they have found a cockroach in, is not allowed to be removed. Residence Life offered to sanitize the fridge and utilize scent warders to mend the issue, but the pair did not want harsh chemicals to be sprayed inside their fridge. 

Students were aware that this issue is a long-standing one, many citing that they’ve been told by older students and alumni that these pest concerns have existed long before they attended Augsburg. Bethany Oswood, a third generation student, informed the crowd: “Urness has been around for 56 years. My grandma went here when it was built. It was not a good living condition then, it is not a good living condition now.” 

Pests were not the only cause for concern from attendants, as students shared their experiences with improper heating or lack of air conditioning in certain buildings. International student Yasmin Lopez, who began living in the dorms in Spring of 2021, detailed her dorm’s heating issue and frustration of not receiving open communication. “I have nowhere else to go; I’m not from this country. I was very frustrated about the situation because I’m super cold in the dorm and I’m on my own, and who do I reach out to if the people that are supposed to be taking care of this don’t do anything about it?” 

Students also expressed dissatisfaction with the cost of living and allocation of funds at Augsburg. Jazlyn Wright asked, “You got heated floors, an updated locker room, but we don’t have updated rooms. Why is that? No A/C? In Urness? Or Mort? But you got them in Anderson and Luther … and you make them hella expensive … for us to have roaches and mice and bugs and gnats.”

Multiple students mentioned how living on campus was not their first choice, citing that living on campus is a requirement for various major scholarships the institution offers, such as full rides and Act Six scholars. With the prospect of graduating with little to no debt in front of them, many students accept having to live on campus but do not accept its current conditions. Paying students ask the question – ‘Where is my money going?’

Senior Madisyn Gowans was open about how draining the situation was mentally. I could not eat in my kitchen, I could not cook. I could not do anything. Once I was able to talk to Residence Life they said they had no idea what I was talking about regarding A) the roaches and B) my complaints, and they said, ‘Well why don’t you fill out a work order?’” Later adding, “I never heard about filling out a work order for a very long time.” Others described their facilities requests being answered with heat treatments, leaving their dorms for the allotted six hours but still finding no success. Gowans offered information she received from pest control: ”Pest control told me […] it was not just one person, it’s not me, it’s the whole building and the whole building needs to be treated.” She revealed, “Pest control told me this. They even told me once they do the treatment in somebody else’s – the roaches leave and go to another person’s apartment.” Solutions from admin have focused on improving communication between staff and students, which included informing more students on how to fill out a work order.

As they wait for further action from administration, students consider possible solutions for better communication. Kannare provided multiple ideas, such as an informative site for students to identify if a space has a pest or mold infestation, updates on any work that is scheduled, perhaps even including a visual graphic of affected areas on campus. “I think that it’s important to have this page so students who are incoming and living on campus can understand how these things might affect them in the long run. Especially if it is going to be concerning their health,” Kannare explained. She also recognized that maintenance work has to be done to the building, suggesting the university “work with a company that specializes in sustainability solutions for the pest infestation. If so, can they follow up with students by creating a website that details with the pest work, how to avoid it in all spaces, and the best fastest way to communicate to faculty about it.”

Though the reason for gathering was negative, it gave space for community and support. When he stepped up to the mic, sophomore Frederick Emdin made a point to call on those who were not present (but were not residence life or facilities) or even walking past through the crowd, urging for accountability and community. “Not only people who live on campus but commuters as well need to be equally as engaged and fully participate in getting rid of all these issues here on campus,” He stated. “Seeing the people walking by and staring, laughing, cracking jokes and I realize there’s a lot of athletes on campus who just turn a blind eye towards these issues even though most of the football team lives here, they’re all pretty quiet.” Emdin also made note of the lack of comment from President Pribbenow, whose home is provided by the University. “If we brought some roaches to his crib he’d be just as mad as we are,” The sophomore stated. “If you don’t live with roaches, why should we?” a voice yelled from the crowd. Emdin nodded, asking, “Why should we? Why should we live with roaches?” 

Augsburg released the following statement in response to this story: We continue to work hard to address student concerns around the residence halls and improve our communication and processes related to facilities issues.

Our key objectives are to get specific reports from students who are directly affected, to follow up on issues in a timely manner, and to make sure the students are informed about what steps have been taken in response. We appreciate the partnership of student government, Facilities Management, Residence Life, and other groups in this effort.

University leaders are working directly with some of the students who raised specific issues during last Tuesday’s open mic event in Murphy Square. We recognize and acknowledge the work that students have undertaken to raise awareness of these concerns on behalf of their community.”

Students looking to join the newly formed Residence Life committee regarding this issue are encouraged to contact the student government. Garcia has been independently collecting student concerns through a Google form. Those who wish to contribute to Garcia’s “Student Concerns” form can do so through the link in the online edition of this issue.